Farmer’s Reserve farmer Chris Vaughn with his sun-grown flower. Photo Credit: Flow Kana.
Hidden under LED lights in basements, closets and warehouses due to prohibition, the resilient cannabis plant and its growers have survived despite inorganic conditions.
But raised alongside strawberry patches, zinnias and cooing babies, cannabis plants in California thrive in fertile soil and sunshine. The Emerald Triangle, which encompasses the verdant Humboldt, Mendocino and Trinity Counties, has long been an open-air haven for cannabis.
So, what method produces the better product — indoor or outdoor?
While many cultivate cannabis using a combination of these methods, the conversation surrounding indoor and sun-grown weed is rich with history and personal preference. That is to say, it constitutes more than mere taste and appearance.
Enter the Farmer’s Reserve cultivar by Flow Kana, a company embracing the unique challenges and rewards of sun-grown cannabis. It sheds light on small-batch, sun-grown flower by illuminating the identity of its Emerald Triangle growers who have spent decades in the shadows.
Out of the Shadows
The cannabis business is built on personal relationships and trust. For that reason, selecting Emerald Triangle growers to partner with Farmer’s Reserve took time, said Gretchen Giles, the vice president of Human Nature, a bicoastal cannabis PR agency that represents Flow Kana.
“They and their parents and their grandparents have spent the majority of their lives hiding from helicopters from the failed War on Drugs,” Giles said. “They hadn’t used their last names before or allowed themselves to be identified out of fear of arrest.”
The fear of arrest is what forced many growers indoors in the first place. And it isn’t exactly sustainable in the long-term, according to Rolling Stone.
Especially damaging is the electrical waste. In Massachusetts, for example, the cultivation of cannabis indoors is responsible for around 10% of all industrial electricity use, according to an estimation from the Northeast Sustainable Cannabis Project released this year.
Moreover, growing an ounce of cannabis under lights indoors can have the same effect as burning 7 to 16 gallons of gas, according to a study from Colorado State University.
It is therefore the perspective of Flow Kana that sun-grown cannabis provides the superior product and experience because it is better for the environment.
“We get that cannabis out of the Emerald Triangle and into consumers’ hands,” Giles said. “We’re hoping for the day we can get it to Massachusetts completely legally, and that they don’t have to labor under this electrical burden.”
The Sun-Grown Difference
While indoor and sun-grown options can both be appealing options for consumers, many prefer to shop sustainably. To showcase the value of outdoor cannabis, Flow Kana hosted the #Sungrownchallenge.
In the challenge, blindfolded cannabis experts tested top-tier flower from Farmer’s Reserve in a competition against bud grown under lights. After smelling, touching and smoking joints, 68% of participants said they preferred the Emerald Triangle sun-grown craft cannabis.
For Chris Vaughn, a high school biology teacher from Alabama turned Emerald Triangle farmer in his fifth year of partnership with Flow Kana, the difference between cannabis grown under lights or under the sun is like the difference between a greenhouse tomato and one that’s found ripe in a backyard garden.
“Indoor cannabis is really pretty and gets you high. It has nice flavors,” Vaughn said.
The “pretty” part stems from careful control. Growers can shield bud that blossoms indoors from the vagaries of nature with artificial air, wind and light.
The “gets you high” part stems from the potency of cannabinoid levels, which ultimately comes down to genetics. However, a skilled grower can hone precise THC levels for their strains.
Manipulation of these environmental and genetic factors results in great-looking and tasting flower.
“You really are this godlike being to the plant,” said Vaughn, who originally grew indoors, but now grows outdoors since he rooted his family in California.
This method appeals to consumers, who consider aesthetics and aroma when shopping, too.
Potency is also desirable to consumers. Indoor cannabis has a reputation for its strong and hazy effect, after all.
“You just get right there. It stones you,” said Giles of Human Nature.
Nevertheless, most experts agree that while indoor buds “may have more frosty trichomes,” both indoor and sun-grown cannabis flowers can achieve equal levels of potency, according to Canna Flower, a CBD company.
And for Vaughn, sun-grown cannabis represents the pinnacle of what the plant can become.
“To me, it has a better flavor. It gets you higher, it’s got a fuller terpene profile and a fuller cannabinoid profile,” Vaughn said. “So you just get so much better of a taste and a completely different experience instead of getting just a kind of a generic high.”
The Peak of Cannabis
With luscious tints of green and purple, a lemon and lime aroma and a terpene-dominant profile, Larry Cake energizes from the first inhale, said Vaughn, who grows the sunny strain for Farmer’s Reserve.
“Larry OG has been a staple on the market for years. Wedding Cake is a staple of the current market. So, crossing two legends, I thought something great would come out of this,” Vaughn said. “For me, it gives a very thoughtful, borderline psychedelic and very in-your-head buzz.”
Vaughn also grows Grease Bucket for Flow Kana. A cross between GMO — known for its “gassy, funky, garlicky-mushroom smell” — and Purple Punch strains, Grease Bucket is his favorite for personal use.
“It relaxes me, gets those aches and pains gone and helps me sleep,” Vaughn said.
For consumers, the knowledge that the farmers themselves enjoy the full-bodied fruits of their labor with Mother Nature is a great sign.
The John Hancock on the Jar
When Vaughn was growing up in Alabama, he had a choice between alcohol and cannabis — and he didn’t drink. A lifelong lover of plants and nature, growing for Woodman Peak Farms in Mendocino County, California was a dream come true.
But the move out to California after leaving his job as a biology teacher also induced culture shock.
“When I was teaching, I couldn’t tell anyone I was growing. I couldn’t let anyone into my life,” Vaughn said. “It was terrifying because I was used to the oppression of the [South]. Learning how to open up and accept people was a task, a complete mind-shift.”
Now, seeing his full signature on each Farmer’s Reserve jar is a thrill.
“The farmer needs to be recognized. You’ve got generational growers who have been working the land for years, and there’s so much love and attention put into a crop to bring it to full term healthy, high-quality product. And I would love to see everybody get the credit they deserve,” Vaughn said.
As the cannabis industry evolves and Emerald Triangle farmers step out from the shadows, conscious consumers too can come into the sun.